Nike and the “new age” of NFL asthetics

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When it was announced in 2010 that Nike was taking over as the NFL’s uniform provider, it prvoked many reactions amongst fans, players, and the media. Many people envisioned uniforms like this for the league:

I'm still unsure why grey is a part of the scheme....... http://cdn.bleacherreport.net

It was not a bad assumption to make at time because Oregon was not the only team attempting to provide wild and whacky looks with Nike threads. The University of Virginia altered their uniforms for the 2010 season:

The University of Maryland also tried to go the “Oregon Duck” way with their uniforms:

Naturally the notion of NFL teams going this route made fans either really excited or very worried. Some fans went so far as to create their own concepts. However, with last week’s unveiling, all of the worries and speculations were put to rest for now. None of the teams really changed their look aside from the Seattle Seahawks (more on that bellow).

The only real changes were to the fabric. Nike apparently has lighter fabrics that help make players faster. Whether that is scientifically true is something for Sports Science to figure out. For the layman, it made last Tuesday exceptionally boring.

But this should not have been a surprise to anyone. This is due to the fact that all changes to uniforms must be approved by the league as well as the team. In addition, a rule is currently in place that prevents a team from changing its uniform within a five-year period. Teams within that rule currently include the Lions, Bills, and Jaguars.

Casual fans have to understand, the NFL is conservative business. This means that, because they are so popular, they will not change . It is rare to see changes like when the Denver Broncos completely changed their look and logo for the 1997 season. By the way, the uniform provider back then was also Nike.

From a business standpoint, they need the logos of teams to stay consistent. In addition, having uniforms that stay consistent helps the league maintain its image. This is why changes like what the Seattle Seahawks just underwent are unlikely to happen to other teams for a while:

I wish they would ditch the neon green. http://cdn.bleacherreport.net

In my eyes, those uniforms look like they belong in Arena Football or the UFL and not the NFL. But that is a manner of opinion. Such hype over uniform changes (or lack thereof) should not exist. This is one time when I will stick with established sports cliches: what matters is the play on the field.

Speaking of which, the NFL’s schedule is rumored to be slated for release on April 17. That is one week from today. And it is really something worth getting excited over because it is one step closer to actual football being played.

Grey Area Politics

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At 12:51 p.m. yesterday, the NFL.com reported the NFL’s announcement of the punishment for the New Orleans Saints regarding the bounty system they had. The Punishments are as follows:

  • Head coach Sean Payton suspended for one season without pay.
  • An indefinite ban on former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
  • Loss of the teams’ second round draft pick in this year’s as well as next year’s draft.
  • Assistant head coach Joe Vitt has been suspended for six games
  • GM Mickey Loomis has been banned for the first eight games of 2012
  • The team has been fined $500,000

Yeah. These bounties were totally worth it...... http://cdn.bleacherreport.net

It is an incredible bit of news for the NFL. It means Sean Payton is now the first head coach to be suspended. For anything. And NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell isn’t even done there. According to several sources, 22 of the 27 Saints defensive players were in on the bounty system. What Goodell will do with these players remains to be seen.

A good majority of fans, players, and media types are quite upset over this news. And it is not for reasons related to how justly or unjustly the Saints were treated. A good majority in that clump of people believe this confirms that the 2006/2007 Patriots got off easy for cheating in the Super Bowl.

There really is no more despicable act outside of cheating. http://sijoeposnanski.files.wordpress.com

While I will not argue with anyone that says the Patriots got off easy, I will not say the Saints penalty should be lessened because of it. Let us not forget what they are being punished for. The team had a bounty system that reward players (with money) for hurting opposing players. There have been rumors of bounty systems for years and this is time a team actually got caught.

Having a bounty system goes against everything football is about. Yes I know it is a violent sport, but the objective is not to hurt the opposing player. On defense, it is to prevent the other team from scoring. The second reason this goes against sports is the notion of taking players out of the game.

From my perspective, I want my teams to beat their rivals when they are at their best. It feels better and most of the time it results in a better game. A good example is the last two times the Steelers have beaten the New England Patriots. The first of those two came in their Super Bowl run of 2008. Tom Brady was out with a season-ending knee injury and the Steelers cruised to a 33-14 win in Foxboro.

This past season, the Steelers once again prevailed 25-17 at home against the Patriots. This time Brady was playing and as a  result, the game was closer. As a fan that felt a whole lot more satisfying.

If you are purposefully taking or attempting to take another teams’ QB or what have you out of the game, then you are cheating everyone: yourself, your team, fans, and the game. It is about as despicable an act as I have ever seen in the NFL or sports in general. That is why I am in full support of these actions by the league.

That being said, I would be lying if I said I did not feel the league should be more consistent with punishments. The Patriots got off lucky an they know it. A  It is part of the reason they were able to make that Super Bowl run in 2007. The NFL should have come up with similar sanctions for the Patriots.

Instead, what did the league do? They destroyed the evidence. We all know that, of course, but it still makes one wonder what was on those tapes (it couldn’t have been good).

Business man first, Commissioner second. http://www.thesportsbank.net

I am not sure what kind of advantage it gave the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVI, but the footage had to help in some way. Goodell enjoys handing out massive fines for repeat offenders of “illegal” hits. Yet, when a huge scandal such as cheating comes about, the league goes all Nixon on everyone. A little consistency would go a long way, Mr. Goodell.

However, in a league that is more worried about TV ratings than transparency, it is clear that this kind of horse manure will continue. As for the Saints, they have a long road to recovery. Make no mistake, they will feel the effects both this year and beyond. For once, the punishment fits the crime, but that does not erase years of inconsistency.

Franchise Monday

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Today’s 5pm deadline for franchising players has brought a  whole slew of activity from various teams from around the league. Franchising a player means a player is slapped with the franchise tag. It gives the team essentially one year to wait to go into further contract negotiations. It is a guaranteed amount of money for the player. It is a win-win situation. Some of the key franchise tag uses of the day include:

  • According to Adam Schefter of ESPN, the Colts used their franchise tag on DE Robert Mathis. Mathis is a huge part of that vaunted Colts passrush. If the Colts are to successfully rebuild their team, then they will need veterans like Mathis to guide younger talent.
  • Lost in the talk of heroes from Super Bowl XLVI is Giants punter Steve Weatherford. Weatherford’s punting was nothing short of phenomenal on Super sunday. He consistently put the Patriots in bad field position. That forced the Pats to go the length of the field to score rather than quick strikes. It was his first quarter punt that helped lead to the first points of the game, a safety.
  • Another key special teamer getting the tag is Broncos kicker Matt Prater. The fifth-year kicker might have the strongest leg in the league. He was instrumental in some of the comeback wins for the Broncos and maybe does not get his due credit. I don’t see why after all of the game winning or tying kicks he made this season. Might I also add that those kicks were not chip-shots either. The Broncos just ensured themselves a clutch boot for at least another season.
  • Speaking of the Super Bowl the Patriots just gave Super Bowl goat  veteran WR Wes Welker the franchise tag. It is apparently worth over $9 million dollars. Welker is one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets and bringing him back made too much sense. It gives Welker another chance at a dropped pass Super Bowl championship.

This deadline also brought with it some key free agent signings. The big signing of the day is, of course, the Texans resigning star RB Arian Foster. To say that Foster has been a pleasant surprise would be an understatement. Foster was a beast in only 13 games last year where he piled up 1,224 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Fantasy owners in the Houston area are rejoicing.

The deal is for five years and is worth $43.5 million overall; $20.75 million of that is guaranteed. Beyond the obvious of this giving the Texans a chance at repeat postseason appearance, this signing (as well as one other) may have implications for other big-name free agents. The other signing is Bills WR Steve Johnson getting a five year, $36.25 million contract.

The player most likely affected by these deals in Pittsburgh WR Mike Wallace. The Steelers did not give the franchise tag to Wallace. that puts them in a big hole for resigning the young wideout. Wallace will most likely demand more money than what Johnson received from the Bills. That is not money that the Steelers can pay. It entirely possible that no team will try for Wallace.

Although not likely.....

It is also possible, with the Pats tagging Welker, that they are trying to keep room open for Mike Wallace. Wallace would the Patriots a scary group of targets for Brady and something they have not had in while: a deep threat. The Bengals are also another team that may have interest. Since the Steelers are only putting a franchise tender on Wallace, that gives these teams an opportunity to go after the speedster (did I mention that he’s fast?).

The Steelers are only $10 million under the cap limit thanks to the plethora of cuts they have made in the last week. Even with that kind of money it is not a given that the Steelers can compete with the Bengals or Patriots in a bidding war over Wallace. Time will tell, but the hits may be far from over for the Steelers organization.

Bounty Hunters

I know that there has been a lot of talk in recent days about the New Orleans Saints and their bounty program. Believe me I will be covering it. I am just soaking in the details and waiting for me concrete details to come out. If it is true then its truly one of the more despicable things to come out of the NFL in recent years.

The concept of paying a player extra money to injure someone goes against everything sports should stand for. I will not speculate in this blog what potential repercussions should be for the Saints. But I will say this: if the allegations are true (and it looks like they are) then the Saints need a clean house. Now.

I will be posting more on this in the coming days. And yes, ESPN, this is worse than Spy Gate. I would rather see a team cheat then do this. But more on that later. Until then, have a happy Monday everyone!

A frustrating game of “wait and see”

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The March 13th deadline to sign players looms like an ominous thunder storm. Over the past few weeks a few players have attracted more attention than others. I posted a blog about one of those players the other week. Another name has garnered a bit of attention: Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace. Why has Wallace gotten so much attention recently? Well, for one thing, he is fast.

Another big aspect of the Mike Wallace situation is its uniqueness. Wallace’s rookie contract is up this year making him a restricted free agent. In the past, that would mean the Steelers could sign Wallace with limited to no interruptions from other teams. Under the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the rules have changed.

Could the Bengals steal one from their rivals?

Essentially, a team can offer Wallace any amount of money they wish. If the Steelers cannot match that offer, then Wallace goes to that team and Steelers get compensated with a high draft pick. In the case of Wallace that might mean a first round choice. But as this past Friday, the Ravens GM Ossie Newsome effectively took the Ravens out of the Wallace Sweepstake. To be fair, the Ravens have a solid group of receivers.

So if the Ravens do not feel like punching their rivals in the gut, who will? The Cincinnati Bengals may have vested interest in the Pittsburgh wideout. For one, they have the third most money to spend in free agency. More importantly, the team has two first round draft picks to spare. The question for the Bengals is whether or not they want to give up a first round choice for Wallace.

The Bengals are currently trying to rebuild their franchise and getting rid of a first round pick may deter that. They could spend that that pick solidifying a running game that will be missing Cedric Benson. For the Steelers, the extra first round pick would help mend their current offensive and defensive line problems.

The Steelers are ancient along the defensive line and this year’s draft looks deep for both lines. But looking more immediate, the Steelers have to remedy a major cap problem. The Steelers were $25 million over the salary cap when this offseason started. A process of cuts and contract restructurings have brought that number down, but they still need to just break even by March 8th (when free agency begins).

If the Steelers cannot find cap room to match offers for Mike Wallace, then some other team will cash in on the youngster’s talents. If the Steelers are to sign Wallace, then that will mean cutting ties with such veterans as Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, and maybe even James Harrison. There are a lot of questions in Pittsburgh and none of them will be quick fixes for Kevin Colbert.

Colbert has some tough choices to make in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, things have gotten messy on the end of Peyton Manning. For the most part, it is still a game of he said/she said, but the Chiefs have made thing interesting. Romeo Crennel ignited an apparent fire when he expressed interest in Manning last week in a press conference. According to league rules, that is tampering.

It's wrong to speak your mind, Romeo.

According to pro football talk, the Colts do not appear to be interested in pressing charges (surprise, surprise). Meanwhile the league has been silent so far. Like most offseason issues, fans will just have to wait and see what happens to the Chiefs.

Personally, this is such a futile matter that it is almost laughable. This is part of what makes the offseason so humorous sometimes. Media outlets seem to look to fill gaps when nothing is there and fodder like this is just not really worthy of several reports. Reporting happenings at Pro Days and the Combine, for example, is worth reporting.

Moving on to other news, according to several reports, it appears that Mario Manningham is done with the Giants. Manningham had a huge post season which included a fantastic Super Bowl performance. This is a sight all too familiar to those that closely follow the NFL. Players have had big Super Bowls before and gone on to less than stellar careers with other teams.

Desmond Howard and Larry Brown are two names that jump out here. Brown had two huge interceptions in Super Bowl XXX. The Raiders signed him to a fat contract after the 1995/96 season and Brown went on to a pretty pedestrian career after that. I am not saying that Manningham is headed for that, be he may be over-stating his value.

According to the NFL.com article, Manningham just wants to see more passes thrown his way. The question is whether or not Manningham is ready to be a leading man yet. He had a very mediocre 523 yards this season in the regular season and only hauled in three touchdowns. Part of the reason for those number may be teams keying on him as well as the emergence of Victor Cruz.

Ah yes. The catch that changed it all.

Whatever the case was for his drop off in production, it raises a lot of questions about his status as the number one wideout on another team. There are a good number of teams out there that would love a receiver as talented as Manningham. The Bears are certainly a team that stands out and the Browns have lacked a number one receiver for years.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the clock is ticking to March 13th. One big factor that may deter teams from signing free agents is the draft. Teams like the Bears may decide to take a chance on one of the fresh young bucks in the drafter rather than signing a free agent. The draft is over 58 days away which is a ton of time for teams to sign, trade, or release players.

And so it begins……the search for answers……..

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When Tom Brady’s last-gasp Hail Mary fell incomplete, the 2012 NFL offseason began. Super Bowl XLVI will go down as a very good installment in the greatest sporting event on the American Sports calendar. With the beginning of the offseason comes slew of rumors, heresay,, and oddball news. The shocker of the past week goes to Roger Goodell for talking about closing down operations for the Pro Bowl.

In this Pro Football Talk post,  it says the Goodell met with DeMaurie Smith to talk about closing it down. This is a very usrpring move, if it is done, by a league that is headed down the path of high TV and flag football a more passive style of play. The rules in recent years have been adjusted so that:

  1. Quaterbacks are well protected. These are priceless commodities and the NFL simply cannot have guys like Brady, Brees, and/or Rogers go down like the older Manning brother did.
  2. Offenses could score a boatload of points. The new way of NFL fans love high-scoring games. A lot. Which is funny because the NFL playoffs this season featured one game in which both teams were in the 30s in points.

Now the NFL is nowhere close to ending the Pro Bowl.  Even still, what is the big deal if the NFL All-Star game is a bust? It is only a pointless football game played between the Super Bowl and Conference Championship Sunday. But that might be one of the game’s current downfalls. No matter what game or games are in that two week gape before the super Bowl, the focus will always be on the Super Bowl.

Or a member of the Manning family (more on this later). http://blogcertified.com

More to the point: the ratings were up for the Pro Bowl this season. According this article, the ratings were the higest of any program on TV that night and day. this is due largely to the popularity of the NFL and not the interest of the game. Fans are still excited to see some of the games super stars . The problem is that some of the stars fans want to see are in the Super Bowl.

If the game already means nothing, then moving it . There are only two options moving forward for the NFL: make it matter or make it fun. The fun aspect is probably the more important of the two. I do not see a way for the NFL to make it matter in terms of post season play. Beyond just conference pride and money, there is not much there.

Although the game is not going anywhere any time soon, here are some things I believe would improve the quality of the game:

Move it to the end of the season

The NFL is one of the few sports that has its all-star game at or near the end of the season. Moving it back to the week after the Super Bowl gives the season a nice fun closing act. It reinstates players who would normally miss due to the Super Bowl. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are two names this seasons Pro Bowl desperately needed. Not only do these players provide better entertainment but they are bigger names.

No offense to Andy Dalton, but he is not biggest draw in the world. What he did as a rookie was phenomenal, but he has a ways to go in terms of Marketabilitiy. The point of an all-star game is to conceivably have all the good eggs in one basket. Although ratings have been good, if every player the fans voted in played, then TV ratings might just rise.

Pay these men

I know it is their job to play football and that some players have contract clauses with Pro Bowl benefits. I get that. But sometimes it seems like the players are lolly gagging out there. Aaron Rogers blasted his NFC teammates for their lack of effort. If that is the case, then there need to be added incentives outside of just conference pride. These men need a payday.

the NFL is a billion dollar franchise that can throw money at teams for a new stadium. I think they can provide money to get the effort of players up. But in case that does not work……

Insert some real football rules

Having real football being played is a key. The game has just gone too vanilla with simple plays that even the dumbest coach would not call during a preseason game. The current rules take any intensity out of the game. Let the defensive players run wild and hit people. After all that is their job and why they were selected.

Let them play! Let them play! Let them play! http://media.sacbee.com

People still talk about the hit that Sean Taylor (may he rest in peace) put on former bills punter Brian Moorman. It was a vicious hit and (while yes it was on a punter) it is something this game needs.I know it kills some of the more intense players like Patrick Willis and James Harrison that the game has gotten soft.

While player safety is important, so is their right to play. They know full and well what it could mean to their health to to play this game. So in that case, just let them go out there and play. They do not need to loosen up the rules to playoff level, but do not make it so we are one unnecessary roughness away from touch football. That is no fun.

Keep it in Hawaii and broadcast it on ESPN

When people think of the Pro Bowl, I can almost garauntee that the first image that pops into their head is Alhoa Stadium in Hawaii:

It is simply a beautiful venue for a sporting event. The weather is almost always perfect down (unless there’s a hurricane). So why would the NFL change it to where the game is being played at the same site of the Super Bowl? For marketing purposes alone, the NFL just needs to keep it in Hawaii.

However, the NFL is once again messing with the location. Pro Football Talk is reporting that the game is in talks to be held in New Orleans, the site of Super Bowl XLVII. changing sites like this is a bad idea when the appeal of Hawaii is so much greater.

If they do not stick with one site, then they need to stick with on broadcast station: ESPN. Look at the last time the game was on ESPN. It set a ten year record for the Pro Bowl. MLB and the NBA both use ESPN as an outlet to broadcast their respective all-star games from. It is time for ESPN to buy the exclusive rights of that game. The fact that ESPN’s one-year stint as the game’s outlet should have sent a huge signal to the NFL.

Instead they kept experimenting with different locations, times, andgimmicks. I mean what was having players tweet from computer kiosks supposed to do? It is not like we were likely to see Megatron tweet something outrageous. This was a lame attempt at connecting with an audience the NFL thinks it is bound to lose.

I'm sure fans were dying to know what players had to say........ http://media.whosay.com

They will not lose them if they make the experience fun for the fans. Think of the MLB and NBA all-star games once more. Major League Baseball has the Homerun Durby and the Celebrity All-Star Game. The NBA has the Dunk and Three-point contests. That is exactly what the NFL should be doing.

Fun and creative events and challenges during the week leading up to the game

Why exactly did the NFL get rid of the strongest man contest again? I thought fans loved that stuff. where is the NFL’s version of the Homerun Derby? They should be pitting Maurice Jones-Drew against Clay Matthews in an Oklahoma drill with no blockers. They should be having foot races between Devon Hester, Mike Wallace, and DeSean Jackson. They should be having Brees, Rodgers, and Brady go head-to-head in passing competitions.

Alas, they are not doing these things to engage fans. They sit and watch while the game’s popularity and positive PR goes out the window. If the NFL really cared about this game, then it would be exerting every creative juice it has to make it better. It is a profitabe product and if they insert some of these modifications, it might make it better. One can only hope.

P.S.: I also hope that the competition committee will consider revoking the defensive rules put in place last year. But that won’t happen.

The Latest on the Coaching Carousel

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The NFL offseason is home to a lot of sideline drama. Part of that drama is what is often called the “coaching carousel.” In short, this is the process by which coaches are hired, fired, and sometimes even hang up the headset. Already a whopping seven coaches have found homes with new teams.

The most curious of these hires were by the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Kansas City Chiefs. Jacksonville went with former bills head coach and seasoned coordinator Mike Mularkey. Mularkey’s tenure with the Bills was less than stellar. He was 14-18 in two seasons and was then promptely fired. Mularkey is more of a coordinator than a head coach. He can put together a good to great offensive attack, but his weakness appears to be managiong a big picture.

This is a must for a head coach. Mularkey led promenint attacks in Buffalo and before that Pittsburgh. He should have just stayed as an offensive coordinator. The same can be said for Romeo Crennel who was just hired as the Chiefs successor to Todd Haley. Crennel was head coach of the Browns for fours season.

Crennel will need to step his game up in KC. http://cdn1.sbnation.com

His work under Bill Belichick as a defensive coordinator was great. His work as a head coach leaves a lot to be desired. It remains to be seen whether or not these men can deliver as head coaches. The problem for both is that neither is inheriting a great roster. There are good players on both, but these are hardly teams that scare anyone.

Last week, it was reported that Chuck Pagano would take over for Jim Caldwell as the Colts head coach. Pagano is the latest young coach to be hired. It is interesting to see his staff form as the days count down to Super Bowl XLVI. Pagano made his first move hiring recently retired Steelers OC Bruce Arians.

Arians was the much maligned coordinator of the Steelers offense for five years before he was let go by the Rooneys. This was without consulting their $100 million franchise quarterback first. Roethlisberger was in love with Arians and went on record saying how upset he was. But it should be interesting to see how Arians works with Pagano.

Arians ran an offense that was good between the 20s, but pretty mediocre in the red zone. The Steelers were a bland 17th in red zone efficiency. Among the complaints about Arians’ system was the lack of a true fullback (Arians doesn’t believe in the position), bad calls on third down, and slow-developing red zone plays.

Back from retirement so soon? http://www.inquisitr.com

The Colts also nearly snagged the Steelers linebacker coach Kieth Butler. Back in 2009, Butler was all but garuanteed the defensive coordinator once Dick LeBeau decides to retire. It does not look like LeBeau is leaving anytime soon either. Given his track record as defensive genius, he has earned the right ot decide for himself.

As for the vacancy at the Steelers offensive coordinator, it appears that the Steelers are targeting former Chiefs headman Todd Haley. Haley was the offensive coordinator with the Cardinals when they went to Super Bowl XLIII. If nothing else, Haley has shown a great ability to work with what he gets.

That being said, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that it is unlikely that Haley will get hired. This might have something to do with the fact that Haley constantly fueds with players and coaches. Pittsburgh is a franchise that prides itself on integrity and doing things right. The last thing they need is ah hot-head coach arguing with Ben Roethlisberger on what play to call.

Other coaching hires in the last month include former Titans headman Jeff Fisher going to the Rams. Fisher had a good amount of success with the Titans and had them within one yardof forcing overtime the Super Bowl. It is extremely ironic that Fisher will be the next head coach at St. Louis. He has some  pieces in place that could help right away. Sam Bradford is young quarterback who has showed some promise early in his career.

Can Bradford rebound and avoid being a bust? http://images.askmen.com

However Bradford did have the unfortunate sophomore slump that claims many young quarterbacks. That should not be an issue because it takes a few years for a quarterbacks true colors to form. For all we know, Bradford could still be an all-pro in the making. But St. Louis is going to have to work fast to surround him with weapons. As Bleacher Report wrote yesterday, the Rams have options.

Fisher and whoever their new general manager is really have a few questions to answer. As Bleacher Report so rightly pointed out, the Colts likely will not surrender that number one pick. ESPN came out with an article back when the playoffs start where Colts owner Jim Irsay came out and pretty much said the Colts will be drafting Luck.

With that in mind, what is the best option for the Rams? Given the amount of money they have invested in Bradford, the smart move would be to draft a wide receiver. Just looking at the kinds of receivers in this years draft, that would be a great move. Their leading candidate, and most likely selection, is Justin Blackmon. Black is the explosive wideout out of Oklahoma State. He is difficult to cover and makes big plays in the clutch.

Blackmon will be a playmaker for years to come. http://nflsoup.com

Time will with the Rams and other newly-hired coaches. Once the super Bowl is over, the offseason and free agency will kick into over-drive. With no lockout this time, there will real offseason news to discuss. That will be a big relief in its own right.